Reviewby Mike Crandol, Feb 26th 2002
DVD 3: Ruins and Relics
Renegade sorcerer Orphen, his apprentice Majic, and the tag-along Cleao continue their quest for the magical means to restore the dragon Bloody August to her human self. Orphen has pinned his hopes on a mystical bracelet hidden by his beloved superior Azalie long ago, but it seems it will not be enough to subdue the demonic dragon. In his despair, Orphen finally tells his companions the story of his apprenticeship at the Tower of Fang, his relationship to Azalie, and her tragic transformation into the Bloody August. Later, the trouble-making trolls Volcan and Dortin uncover a nest of golems and unleash them on Orphen and company. Fortunately Orphen's old partner-in-sorcery Stephanie is on hand to help our heroes combat this new menace.
Things begin to pick up in "Orphen Volume 3: Ruins and Relics", which contains episodes 7 through 9 of this fairly enjoyable fantasy adventure series. Details are finally brought to light concerning Orphen's past, and the tale of the ill-fated Azalie is told in an extended flashback which makes up the bulk of episode 8. Azalie turns out to be a far more interesting character than any of Orphen's current companions, and one hopes there is more of her tale to be told before the series' end. The final episode on the disc ends on a cliffhanger, but is mostly filler in spite of introducing another character from Orphen's past, the ex-sorcerer Stephanie. "Orphen's" main draw is it's unique plot, and when the story deviates from it the show suffers. While Orphen himself is a well-realized personality, meek sidekick Majic, the spoilt rich-girl Cleao, and comedy relief Volcan and Dortin have so far proven to be little more than tired anime stereotypes. As such these filler episodes are much less enjoyable than they might be with more rounded characters.
When "Orphen" sticks to it's overriding story arc it makes for a much more entertaining show. A sort of Harry Potter gone wrong, Orphen is hunted by his former classmates at the Tower of Fang, the leading magic school in the land where he and Azalie studied. Rather than seeking a way to return Azalie to her old self, they wish to destroy her, and when Orphen defies their decision and leaves the Tower to search for a cure he joins their hit list. A refreshingly different plot for a genre in which treasure-hunting and fighting evil warlords is the standard fare, Orphen has an edge over other medieval fantasy anime in the story department. It is both a help and a hindrance to the show that it's most intriguing character is Azalie. Power-hungry yet seemingly well-meaning, the beautiful wizardess is a sympathetic character which helps make the audience more involved in Orphen's quest. However, since she spends the bulk of the series as a hulking dragon we don't see nearly as much of her character as we'd like to. As noted earlier, the one-sided Majic and Cleao are insufficient stand-ins for Orphen's company.
Unfortunately the show falls into a pitfall common for anime sword-and-sorcery series. Seldom does an anime's production design accurately capture the look and feel of a European medieval fantasy. One cannot place too much blame on the Japanese creators, for they are dealing with folklore that is not their own....if a Western studio tried to produce Ninja Scroll or Rurouni Kenshin they would no doubt face the same problems. Yet it must be admitted that it is hard to accept a medieval village in which the local tavern serves ice-cream sundaes, castle rooms are furnished with modern-looking couches, and one of the main characters sports a wardrobe that looks like she purchased it from the Gap. This problem plagues not only "Orphen" but virtually every other fantasy anime series....only "Lodoss War" and "Berserk" seem to have captured the right "feel" for the genre.
The music doesn't help. The opening and closing themes, courtesy of Sharan Q, are very good, but the opening's scat jazz sound doesn't conjure images of wizards and dragons. The incidental music is passable but the series could have benefited from a more Celtic sound, as was achieved in the original "Record of Lodoss War".
All the anachronisms might be overlooked if the art or animation were of special note, but by these standards "Orphen" is a fairly run-of-the-mill television anime. Many veterans of the previous fantasy anime hit "Slayers" worked on this show as well, but fortunately the artwork is better than "Slayers'" bare-bones production. Still, "Orphen's" color palette is fairly bland, and many of the backgrounds have a washed-out look to them. The animation is again an improvement over "Slayers" but still fairly static. Creative staging and camera cutting could have been used to disguise the limited animation, but no such attempt was ever made. The character designs range all the way from really bad to very appealing. Ironically enough the wishy-washy Majic and Cleao have been given the best design, which is almost a parody of the Saucer-Eyed Anime Kid. Orphen and Azalie (both in human and dragon form) are also well-realized. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the imps Volcan and Dortin. Dortin in particular looks like a super-deformed Velma from Scooby-Doo.
The infamous English dub presents an unusual quandary. The vocal casting itself is actually quite good, and each character is given a distinctive voice by a capable actor, versus the Japanese version which sports a mostly unremarkable performance. The problem lies in the script, which varies so much from the original that oftentimes the characters' dialogue bears no relation to the Japanese script's intent. I'm not opposed to alterations so long as they retain the meaning of the original, and even the occasional ad-lib is a welcome thing. But "Orphen" strays too far and too often, and one is left torn between wanting to hear the funny and engaging English cast and wanting to know what was really supposed to be said. I tried watching an episode in English but with the subtitles on.....it was not unlike the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" DVD in which the subtitles are adapted from Shakespeare's Henry IV.
Despite it's many faults, you could do a lot worse than "Orphen". It's certainly a far sight better than the majority of sword-and-sorcery anime out there today, thanks to it's involving plotline. Let's just hope it sticks closer to it in future episodes.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B-
+ unique and engaging plot brings a fresh spin to a tired genre
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